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Under the feather?

Evaluating and caring for incoming birds

From Animal Sheltering Magazine November/December 2012

If you get a guest from the avian world, whether he arrives as a surrender or a stray, the first thing to do is make sure he’s not sick or injured. Lost feathers or Extreme Fluffiness do not necessarily mean the bird is sick, but there are some major warning signs.

In the “Duh” category, a bird who is bleeding, vomiting, or lying prone on the cage floor should have you dialing an experienced vet, stat. More subtle signs of illness include labored breathing, dragging a wing or leg, or being unable to perch. If your visitor is displaying any of these symptoms, he needs to see a good Tweety Doc right away.

If none of these worrisome issues are present, give him some time to chill out while you take the time to do a little homework: What species is he, and what are the basic things that species will need to be healthy? Did the former owner provide any info on his needs and the diet he’s been eating? Is there a good avian rescue group in the area that might be able to provide specific care tips and eventually take him in?

While you wait for the high-flying cavalry to swoop in to assist, here are ways to ensure your bird will tweet only the best about the four-star lodging you’ve provided during his stay. Any handling of birds should be done using a gentle but firm grip (towels make easier and safer protection than gloves); if you’re moving your guest from one cage to another, close the doors and windows to eliminate any opportunities for him to pull a great escape.

Keep it quiet, please. House birds in a low-traffic area away from the sounds and sight of dogs, cats, snakes, etc. Keep cages high off the floor, and ideally partially covered and positioned against a wall to provide privacy. If possible, separate them from other birds as well (hey, you’re a human being, but that doesn’t mean you want strangers in your hotel room).

Peepin’ on the Ritz. Ideally, use stainless steel or powder-coated painted cages; never use iron, lead, or zinc—it would be like housing a human in a motel room with arsenic walls. Birds can chew through plastic and wood structures, so make sure the enclosures are chew-proof and away from electrical wires.

Provide room service. Your bird won’t care about sparkling or still, but he’ll need ready access to fresh water and a quality seed mix and pellets appropriate for his species at all times. You can offer tasty side dishes of grains, beans, veggies (raw or cooked), fruit, and nuts.

No Wi-Fi, but plenty of perches. Birds like to get high. Not that way—they like to perch and have a good view of the terrain. So hook up their temporary crib with multiple levels. As for the “room” itself, look for caging that’s rectangular, square and wide; not circular, narrow, or tall; birds should be able to move about comfortably, with bar spacing small enough so there is no risk of getting their heads stuck, or being able to flee the coop.

Help him dodge the draft. Unless you’re one of those people who never need a sweater, a comfortable room temperature for you will likely be comfy for your bird—but sudden shifts in heat can be stressful. Keep birds away from drafts coming from air conditioning and radiators, as well as any chemicals, aerosols, cleaners, Teflon fumes, tobacco, and other airborne contaminants.

One-star lodging. If your facility totally lacks bird caging, and your feathered friend didn’t arrive with his own, tanks, bins, crates, or kennels can be used for short-term (24 hours or less) emergency housing, until you can get him to better accommodations. But don’t be surprised if the bird sounds off on Yelp.

For more information on longer-term avian care needs, check out

About the Author

Animal Sheltering is for everyone who cares about the animals in their community—from shelter directors and animal care and control officers to kennel staff, volunteers, and private individuals working as activists, breed rescuers, wildlife rehabbers, veterinarians and more.